Editor’s note: This is the sixthin a series of articles previewing UNM men’s basketball MWC opponents for this season. Coming Friday: San Diego State Aztecs. To view all previews, CLICK HERE
Larry Eustachy isn’t afraid of expectations.
In fact, he’s fueling the fire in Fort Collins, asking the simple question of “Why not us?” when discussion of Mountain West championships and deep NCAA Tournament runs come up.
The first-year Colorado State head coach, replacing Tim Miles who moved on to take a Big 12 coaching job at Nebraska, knows he inherits an experienced bunch of players who won 20 games a season ago and got an invite to the NCAA Tournament.
The well-traveled Eustachy, who most recently turned around the Southern Miss program, says he won’t adjust his high-intensity defensive coaching philosophy to match the Rams roster, but he may not need to.
“These guys are a very close-knit group,” Eustachy said. “And the key to coaching is blending the new guys with the old guys and asking these returning guys who are very much set in their ways to look at it a little differently and play a little different and try a different way. No way is right or wrong.”
The Rams return four players with starting experience and add three transfers expected to contribute immediately.
Colorado State a season ago was probably at its best when playing a four-guard lineup with the undersized 6-foot-5 Pierce Hornung playing in the post by himself. That is why the addition of 6-10 Colton Iverson, a senior transfer from Minnesota, has so many people around the CSU program excited.
Should Iverson provide quality minutes at center, Hornung can be freed up a bit on both ends of the floor to play more of a traditional power forward role. Throw in junior college transfer Gerson Santo, a 6-9 player whom Eustachy said he has been pleasantly surprised with in the preseason, and the Rams have some options in the paint they didn’t during the 2011-12 season.
One big loss for CSU was the late September loss of senior guard Jesse Carr, who tore his ACL and is expected to miss the season.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Eustachy said. “He was arguably our best perimeter shooter. He was really playing well. We can absorb it and sometimes there’s a silver lining. Jonathan Octeus has come in from Wabash (Valley Junior College), and I think he can really be good.”
Big things are also expected of 6-4 sophomore guard Daniel Bejarano, a transfer from Arizona who was once a top 100 recruit out of Phoenix.
Acclimating new players on a roster with seven seniors could be a challenge, especially at a school coming off an NCAA Tournament season after proving to be one of the nation’s best home-court teams.
“They’ve been very receptive to it,” Eustachy said. “They want to win. They’re not happy with 12 losses. They’re not happy with their road record (6-11 in road and neutral site games away from Fort Collins). So we’re out to prove (ourselves), and I’m grateful to be a part of it and try to help them.”
Colorado State at a Glance
Head coach: Larry Eustachy (1st season at CSU, 402-268 overall)
2011-12 record: 20-12, 8-6 MWC (1-1 vs. UNM)
Returning starters: G Wes Eikmeir, G Dorian Green, G Greg Smith, F Pierce Hornung
Key players lost: G Jesse Carr*, F Will Bell
Key newcomers: C Colton Iverson, G Daniel Bejarano, F Gerson Santo
This season vs. UNM: Jan. 23 in Albuquerque, Feb. 23 at Fort Collins, Colo.
Of note: UNM head coach Steve Alford’s Iowa Hawkeyes went 3-2 against the Larry Eustachy-coached Iowa State Cyclones. Eustachy’s final game at Iowa State was a 54-53 loss to Alford’s Hawkeyes on March 21, 2003, in the NIT.”At one time I thought it was over,” Eustachy recalled. “We had it. It was one of the weird games that I thought the game was over. I think Steve actually came up to me after the game and said, ‘Nice win.’ It was so bang, bang at the end. It was like mind-boggling. We had it, and lost it. So all the way back to the last game, it was an intense rivalry.”
*Carr, a senior, is still on the CSU roster but tore his ACL in late September and is expected to miss the entire season.
— This article appeared on page D4 of the Albuquerque Journal